On September 20, a nineteen-year-old boy rode a Philadelphia hotel elevator up to the fourth floor and got out. He then grabbed hold of a nearby trashcan, used it to break the window at the end of the corridor and leapt to his death…
On average, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that an American takes his or her own life every 12.5 minutes, with some 40,000 dying at their own hand every year. Indeed, suicide is now the tenth leading cause of death in this country and the second leading cause of death for our 10- to 24-year-olds. What’s more, suicide rates continue to climb and now, for the first time ever, account for more deaths than car crashes.
Add to that the one million or so attempts made every year, and the many successful ones that go unreported.
For such reasons, September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s designed to “help promote resources and awareness around the issues of suicide prevention, how you can help others, and how to talk about suicide without increasing the risk of harm.”
Unfortunately, though, it’s like some well-kept secret, as all those I spoke to had no idea and thought September was all about Labor Day weekend and back-to-school and not much more.
Perhaps that’s because suicide is rarely discussed and then usually only in hushed tones Indeed, it was only after then 63-year-old actor/comedian Robin Williams, plagued by depression, hanged himself last year that it became a topic of conversation—and, even then, not for long.
At the time, though, nurse Doreen Suran reminded us in her USA Today letter to the editor:“Grieve for Williams but fight to get treatment for all who suffer mental illness and severe depression.”
Apparently, we still don’t, however.
In USA Today’s “The Tragic Tide of Suicide: 4 an Hour,” Gregg Zoroya wrote, “A national effort to stem this raging river of self-destruction—90% of which occurs among Americans suffering mental illness—is in disarray.” He then went on to note that, “The country seems almost complacent with this staggering death toll. America’s health care community remains mired in confusion over how to tackle suicide mostly because the public—and with it the federal government—never get serious about finding crucial answers.”
And those answers are crucial to save troubled teenagers, too, as made apparent by these devastating facts:
- Around 95% of teens who commit suicide have a psychological disorder such as depression.
- About 16% of a nationwide survey of high schoolers reported having considered suicide at some point. About 13% of those had created a plan, and about 8% had followed through within a year.
- Boys are more likely to commit suicide, but girls are more likely to report that they’d considered it or attempted it.
- For every 25 attempts, one is successful.
- Almost 5,000 young people die at their own hands every year.
That means that we parents and educators are on the front lines and must be aware of the signs that an adolescent or teen in our keeping is in distress. These include:
- Increased sadness or feelings of hopelessness
- Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
- Frequent crying or tearing up at odd situations
- Overall lack of enthusiasm or happiness in everyday activities or those once enjoyed
- Withdrawal from family and friends
- A drastic change in eating or sleeping habits—especially less of either or both
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating on daily tasks or schoolwork
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt over something of little consequence or not of their doing at all
- Restlessness or agitation over small issues
- Loss of energy or appetite; increased fatigue
- Talking of death or suicide for any reason
- Dropping hints they might not be around much longer
Remember, however, these go beyond typical teen moodiness and impatience.
Meanwhile and none too soon, the United States Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) now recommends screening for major depressive disorder in those 12 to 18, but not, at this time anyway, in younger children. Click here to comment on the draft recommendation statement until October 5.
And right here in Pennsylvania and starting with the current school year, our educators “will be trained to recognize the signs of depression, self-injury, low self-esteem, and other risk factors of teen suicide.” This is thanks to Act 71 of 2014, signed into law by then Governor Tom Corbett, which requires that all school districts in the commonwealth adopt “a youth suicide awareness and prevention policy and provide four hours of training for professional educators in grades 6 through 12 every five years.” At the same time, districts are free to offer age-appropriate suicide prevention and awareness instruction in their classrooms.
Also, back in August 2013, Montgomery County Emergency Services (MCES) joined the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, thus linking callers to trained counselors in their area to receive confidential support 24/7. Be advised, however, that those needing to talk to someone here in Montco can still call MCES directly at 610-279-6100.
Local assistance is also available at:
- Montgomery County Children’s Support Program: Teens can call its Teen Talk Line at 866-825-5856, text at (215) 703-8411, or email at email@example.com. Parents or their children can call 1-888-435-7414, 24/7.
For a listing of suicide-related organizations and the services they provide in Philadelphia, click here.
At the same time, you’ll find suicide hotlines located throughout Pennsylvania here.
Be advised, however, that, in an emergency situation, immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (1-800-273-TALK) (8255) or quickly dial 9-1-1.
And in the meantime, consider signing up for the Philadelphia Out of the Darkness Walk being held on Sunday, October 4. The event kicks off from the Philadelphia Art Museum at 9 that morning, and you can either register online here (as a virtual walker, volunteer, or walker) before the walk at 7.
Definitely can’t make it? Then maybe make a donation and help AFSP reach its event goal of $430,000; as of this writing, $286,817 has been raised.
Consider, too, donating to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (ASFP) by clicking here.
Bottom line: Let’s all try to make a difference instead of just throwing our hands up in the air and saying, “What can I do about it, and, anyway, can anyone really stop someone bent on killing themselves?”
The answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”